Are you using your resources efficiently?
by Mark Woodward-Smith, Group Managing Director -
Construction projects require a significant number of resources on site to transform the ideas and designs into a finished product. It is fundamental to the success of all such projects that these resources are managed and scheduled properly. The efficient management and use of resources has become one of the most important aspects of construction project management in today’s climate given that the industry is so resource-intensive and the costs of those resources have risen steadily over recent years.
It is the role of the project manager and site management team to ensure that the three main physical resources: labour, plant and materials, are all managed effectively to achieve maximum efficiency in their usage. Efficient firms maximise outputs from given inputs in order to reduce their costs and improve their competitiveness and profitability.
No two construction projects are exactly the same and they can vary in many ways such as design, size, capacity, location, orientation, and so on which brings with it challenges. Managing the resources on site carries with it risks, one of these is achieving a productive site to meet the programme and deadlines whilst still maintaining the cost budgets that were established within the tender. This can often become a major challenge for the site management team.
The thought process should start at the pre-construction stage when tendering and pricing a project; it is essential to establish that sufficient information is available, is the design complete, have enough allowances for unknowns, gaps in scope and “we want to win this project” all been included?
Labour constitutes a large percentage of the construction cost and the quantity of labour hours performing a task are more susceptible to the influence of management than are materials and plant, therefore it is important that the site labour force is managed correctly and efficiently. Coming up with the right labour strategy is vitally important to the success or failure of a project but all too often it is left to the last minute.
Most tender estimates are built up using existing labour norms taken from either the estimators past experience or published sources, however how often are these norms challenged and amended to take into account the actual conditions, differentiators and variables that are unique to the specific project i.e. high-rise access, distance from site to welfare and storage areas, quality of tender information, amount of repetition, is a prefabrication or modular solution a better option? Is BIM going to be used?
Preparing a detailed programme and/or activity schedule to better understand the numbers of gangs, peak numbers and differing skill sets required should be one of the key aspects of every tender review.
Overlaying these labour forecasts with the contractor’s existing projects and opportunities will provide an accurate picture of peaks and troughs and any skills gaps. Does the business have enough resources, will they have to recruit, subcontract works, employ agency labour and if so has the tender been priced accordingly? Basic hourly rates of pay are usually determined by recognised industry bodies. How these rates are then combined into an all-in rate based on the labour mix and skills required for the project depends on the specific contract requirements which may require additional amounts to be included for issues such as duration, travel, subsistence, overtime and bonus.
Once a project has been secured it is the site mangers responsibility to ensure the site has an adequate workforce whether it is directly employed labour or subcontractors. Regular schedule reviews should take place to determine the following month’s activities and to determine the resources needed. This can be influenced by any number of factors affecting productivity and performance, however with the right reporting tools any under performance against targets can be identified quickly and allow the issue to be addressed before it becomes a major problem…
It’s always worth investing from the outset in performance measuring and monitoring, leaving it until the issues manifests itself as a cost overrun may be too late. Don’t wait until the horse has bolted to lock the gate!
Invariably projects are subject to change which may have an effect on labour productivity, i.e. re-doing completed work, introducing additional items and re-phasing or re-sequencing. Before submitting prices for changes it is essential to review the tendered rates to establish whether they are still applicable or if there should be any amendments to take into account the specific circumstances of the change. Using dayworks is a fairly safe bet but will they be accepted for payment?
Preparing look ahead schedules of forthcoming work say up to six weeks, which are updated weekly should give sufficient insight into the upcoming resources required, as well as equipment and materials needed to fulfil the tasks. It’s also worth checking that all the required information, drawings, etc. are available to complete the tasks as efficiently as possible and all the required consents/sign-offs have been sought, having a standard checklist of deliverables would aid this process.
A sudden rise or fall in resource levels is inefficient. Project cost may increase because you may have to hire additional labour to cover the peaks in the resource profile. Also, when there are troughs in the resource profile, resources will remain idle during those periods while still being paid. Both situations are undesirable and therefore resource smoothing should be considered.
Where time constraints take priority and the objective is to complete the work by the required date the application of resource smoothing will remove some flexibility from the schedule and its ability to deal with unavoidable delays, but the advantage is usually a more efficient and cost-effective use of resources. Let’s say that according to your schedule you have a resource working 30 hours this week, 10 hours next week, and 20 hours the week after next week. When you apply resource smoothing, the resource will work 20 hours this week, 20 hours next week, and 20 hours the week after. The total amount of hours remains at 60 hours, but is more uniformly distributed over the scheduled 3-week period.
Resource levelling on the other hand is used when only a fixed level of resources is available and is a technique in which the start and finish dates are adjusted such that the requirements for resources do not exceed the predefined resource limits. It simply answers the question ‘With the resources that I have available to me, when will the work be finished?’
In most situations however, a mixture of both levelling and smoothing of the site labour resource level will be necessary to achieve the most efficient use of those resources. Generally, the resource levelling is done first and then the resource smoothing as it is necessary to first accommodate the resource constraints before it can be optimised.
People do not like their work performance to be monitored and quite often the sensible approach is to set team/gang targets and goals or you may get more than you bargained for. Being open at the outset regarding output expectations is key to monitoring and identifying any productivity issues.
Examples of issues affecting productivity
- Weather and the seasons
- Out of sequence working against planned
- Crowding and stacking of trades
- Overtime and fatigue
- Restricted access routes
- Unavailability of resources e.g. materials, manpower, equipment
It is essential to establish that everything required to start an activity is in place, have the right notices been issued, is there enough continuity of work once any activity is started? Once you have a large number of trades on site there is a perception that they can be moved around the project as and when required. This will require recording as a disruptive activity and where applicable the issue of the requisite contractual notice referencing the applicable contract clause(s).
Differentiating between in-efficiencies and disruption
In order to establish the underlying reason(s) for an increase in resource costs relative to the outputs being achieved on site it is vital that good records, such as daily site diaries, labour allocation sheets and sign-off/handover sheets are maintained as these will all help monitor what is happening around the site each day, Systech has a site diary phone app which is available] taking regular progress photographs can also provide a good contemporaneous record of the activity on site, though it’s important for any such photographs to be clear enough to be understood later in the project. Taking pictures from the same positions assists in showing progress over time and identifies where there are other trade interfaces that have affected the completion of the task in progress. Remember a well taken series of pictures can be worth a thousand words.
From a cost recovery perspective it is important to understand the terms of your contract as these will determine what is and isn’t recoverable. Concurrent contractor delay events may restrict your entitlement, so it’s vitally important that you can differentiate between events to be able to make a valid claim for time and costs.
Logistics, materials and equipment
Quite often city centre sites are very congested and “just in time” deliveries are the only means by which materials can be provided and it is inevitable that any failures in this system will directly affect the labour efficiency achieved on site. Similarly, on congested sites double handling and moving materials around site can cause significant disruption in addition to damage and replacement costs, untidy sites are generally less productive. Holding areas for bulky materials can often ease the challenges on site however this can add to misplaced materials and additional logistics.
It is essential that the site management team effectively manage not only the use of shared scaffold, hoists, cranes etc but also all common user spaces and this is best achieved by regular meetings between all affected parties if claims for delays and disruption are to be avoided.
Where the supply or removal of materials lie on the critical, then it is worth considering implementing an additional shift outside normal working hours to make sure all trades have the materials they require readily to hand so that they can work efficiently each day.
To ensure that these materials are available on time it is vital that both the procurement and site fixing of materials are identified and correctly linked on the project programme.
To assist with the above Systech can offer the following services: –
- Labour resource planning
- Project planning
- Resource loading of programmes
- Preparation of the resource and activit schedules required by NEC
- Monitoring and reviewing site progress and the effective use of resources
- Site diary app for contemporary project record keeping
- Creation of visualisations to demonstrate graphically the effects of resource allocation